black fashion by javii: cultural appropriation – the new black

September 4, 2012

During the AFROPUNK Festival there were numerous amount of people wearing bindis. I wasn’t surprised, over the past couple of months Bindi’s have become a fast growing trend amongst the hipster crowd as well as the kids in the grunge scene. Knowing this I was still unclear if wearing a Bindi is, or should be considered offensive or not. A bindi is a forehead decoration worn in South and Southeast Asia. Traditionally the bindi is a red dot worn in the center of the forehead close to the eyebrows. It can also consist of a sign or piece of jewelry worn at this location.
According to Subhomy Das, a red dot on the forehead is an sign of marriage and also guarantees the social status and sanctity of the institution of marriage. When the Indian bride steps over the threshold of her husband’s home, bedecked in glittering apparels and ornaments, dazzling the red bindi on her forehead that is believed to usher in prosperity, and grants her a place as the guardian of the family’s welfare and progeny.
Traditionally, the area between the eyebrows (where the bindi is placed) is said to be the sixth chakra anja, the seat of “concealed wisdom”. According to followers of Hinduism, this chakra is the exit point for kundalini energy. The bindi is said to retain energy and strengthen concentration. It is also said to protect against demons or bad luck. The bindi also represents the third eye. I’m aware that bindis were once more religiously charged than they are now, they have become an almost-secular form of beauty enhancement in Western culture. The traditional meaning of bindis are n not obscure Most things that are now in fashion were once a religious and cultural symbol.
This is where the term Cultural appropriations steps in. Cultural appropriation is when a dominant culture adopts some specific elements of one culture by a different cultural group. It can include the introduction of forms of dress or personal adornment, music, art, religion, language or social behavior. These elements, once removed from their indigenous cultural contexts, can take on meanings that are different from, or less nuanced than, those they originally held.
I reached out to my High School friend Dayita for her opinion on the matter. While the opinion of one Hindu woman does not reflect the opinions of all Hindu’s, it brings a great deal of prospective. “Wearing a bindi is cultural appropriation, plain and simple. Growing up I’ve heard my mother, my aunts and even my sisters being called a ‘dot Indian’ many times. While it has yet to happen to me in my adult years, growing up I saw my family, my friends family or just about anyone who looked like me be dehumanized because of bindis but they wore it anyways because it was a part of their culture, a part of who they were. It’s inappropriate for anyone who does not follow, or grew up in the Hindu faith. You can’t just read a book a suddenly feel so close to our beliefs that you must throw on a bindi. That’s like me reading a book about Judaism and throwing on a yarmulke.” In July of 1987, a local NJ newspaper called attention to the rising number of harassment incidents dealing with India citizens. In response, they received a letter, signed “Jersey City Dot Busters:”
“I’m writing about your article during July about the abuse of Indian People. Well I’m here to state the other side. I hate them, if you had to live near them you would also. We are an organization called dot busters. We have been around for 2 years. We will go to any extreme to get Indians to move out of Jersey City. If I’m walking down the street and I see a Hindu and the setting is right, I will hit him or her. We plan some of our most extreme attacks such as breaking windows, breaking car windows, and crashing family parties. We use the phone books and look up the name Patel. Have you seen how many of them there are? Do you even live in Jersey City? Do you walk down Central avenue and experience what its like to be near them: we have and we just don’t want it anymore. You said that they will have to start protecting themselves because the police cannot always be there. They will never do anything. They are a week race Physically and mentally. We are going to continue our way. We will never be stopped.” I wouldn’t go as far as some people and call wearing a Bindi racist but it is insensitive and in many ways cultural appropriation. There’s a very thin line we walk between appreciation and appropriation. White privileged people aren’t the only ones who seem to cross this line. Tell me what you think, wearing a Bindi without any religious or cultural significance: Cultural appropriation or Fashion Statement?